Productivity in a dominant herbaceous species is largely unrelated to soil macronutrient stocks

Rowe, E.C.; Toberman, H.; Adams, J.L.; Lawlor, A.J.; Thacker, S.A.; Patel, M.; Tipping, E. ORCID: 2016 Productivity in a dominant herbaceous species is largely unrelated to soil macronutrient stocks. Science of the Total Environment, 572. 1636-1644.

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To predict ecosystem responses to anthropogenic change it is important to understand how and where plant productivity is limited by macronutrient availability. Nitrogen (N) is required in large quantities for plant growth, and is readily lost through leaching or gas fluxes, but reactive nitrogen can be obtained through dinitrogen fixation, and phosphorus (P) is often considered a more fundamental long-term constraint to growth and carbon sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems. Phosphorus limitation may be becoming more prevalent due to widespread pollution by atmospheric N. Assessments of the effects of macronutrient availability on productivity in natural ecosystems are however scarce. We measured standing biomass of bracken Pteridium aquilinum as a proxy for productivity across sites with similar climate but varied geology. Total above-ground biomass varied from 404 to 1947 g m− 2, yet despite 12-fold to 281-fold variation in soil macronutrient stocks these were remarkably poor at explaining variation in productivity. Soil total nitrogen, organic phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and zinc had no relationship with productivity, whether expressed as concentrations, stocks or element/C ratios, and nor did foliar N/P. Soil potassium (K) and molybdenum stocks both showed weak relationships with productivity. The stock of K in bracken biomass was considerably greater as a proportion of soil stock than for other nutrient elements, suggesting that this nutrient element can be important in determining productivity. Moisture availability, as indicated by environmental trait scores for plant species present, explained considerably more of the variation in productivity than did K stock, with less production in wetter sites. Soil N/C ratio and organic P stock were relatively unimportant in determining productivity across these bracken sites. It is possible that more-direct measures of N and P availability would explain variation in productivity, but the study shows the importance of considering other essential elements and other environmental factors when predicting productivity.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Emmett
ISSN: 0048-9697
Additional Keywords: bracken, co-limitation, interaction, micronutrient, molybdenum, NPP, potassium, stoichiometry
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Agriculture and Soil Science
Date made live: 30 Jun 2016 15:31 +0 (UTC)

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